If I Could Tell You

Written by Elizabeth Wilhide
Review by Elisabeth Lenckos

Does war unravel the fabric of traditional society or merely highlight the pre-existing tears in an already frail material? When Julia Compton, the wife of a small-town lawyer and loving mother of an only son, meets the WWII documentary filmmaker Doug Birdsall, she realizes the full extent of her handsome husband’s dullness and risks her well-ordered existence in order to embark on a passionate love affair that eventually threatens to destroy her. However, Julia Compton is no Anna Karenina, the tragic heroine of Tolstoy’s masterpiece referenced in If I Could Tell You. Rather, she conjures up Marian Forrester in Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady, who struggles valiantly to find meaning and redemption in a changing world. Transported from the English seaside into bohemian London, Julia overcomes her initial culture shock—a gifted pianist, she has never kept house or held a regular job—by aiding the war effort and facing the greatest challenge of all; putting her life together after a devastating catastrophe. If I Could Tell You is a beautifully composed work of historical fiction, its atmospheric lyricism a testimony to the obvious skills of the author, who evokes Britain’s past with honesty and feeling.